Wednesday, March 9, 2016

George Martin dead at 90: A Salute To The Man Who Produced the Beatles

Sir George Henry Martin
January 3, 1926 - March 9, 2016

Sir George Martin, best known as the producer for the Beatles, passed away in his sleep on Tuesday March 8. Martin was 90 years old. The news of Martin's passing was announced by Ringo Starr via Twitter while Universal Music Group confirmed it. At the time of this writing, the cause of death is unknown.

George Martin was born on January 3, 1926 in Highbury, London, England. He was the son of Henry and Betha Martin. At an early age, Martin had an interest in music. It was after Martin's family had bought a piano that made him want to play music. Martin tried piano lessons but after a disagreement between his mother and his teacher, it was over after eight lessons. Later on in his life, Martin would teach himself how to play. For his education, Martin attended St Ignatius' College in Stamford Hill. Before choosing a career in music, Martin had a variety of jobs. For a short time, Martin was a quantity surveyor and then a temporary clerk for the War Office. Martin also joined the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy in 1943 and became an officer. However, Martin was never involved in combat since the war ended before he could be. After Martin left the service in 1947, Martin attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. It was there that he furthered his interest in music, as he learned to play both the piano and the oboe.

Prior to producing the Beatles, Martin produced comedy and novelty records. Martin worked with many comedians, including Pete Sellers. In 1962, Martin was approached by Sid Coleman, who him about a manager named Brian Epstein. Coleman thought Martin would be interested in working with the band. Martin and Epstein in February 1962. Epstein's band, the Beatles, were a rock group from Liverpool. Epstein was able to score an audition for the band with Decca Records in late 1961, which the band failed. After that, Epstein went around with the recording of the Decca audition under his arm and tried his best to get the band a record deal. When Epstein met with Martin, Epstein played the Decca audition. Another meeting was scheduled with Martin in May and it was then that Martin decided to take the Beatles under his wing without having met them. However, the actual contract with EMI was not signed yet by Martin as he waited until he heard the band perform. Martin did end up signing them. Martin would say years later that he liked that they were charismatic and was knocked out by their sense of humor. The Beatles themselves respected Martin, as he had an immense knowledge of music and worked with Pete Sellers and The Goon Show- both of which were comedic influences to the band. However, Martin was not impressed with the drummer Pete Best. Martin told Epstein to talk to the band about getting another drummer. The truth was that this wasn't the first time someone had said something bad about Best. Sooner or later, Best would be replaced by Ringo Starr.

From 1962 to 1969, Martin and the Beatles made some of the greatest music in the history of rock and pop music. In the studio, Martin was just as important as John, Paul, George or Ringo- as he collaborated with them in making the music. Some of his contributions included...

-changing "Please, Please Me" from a ballad to a faster paced rock tune
-adding a string section to "Yesterday"
-providing the electrifying piano solo on "In My Life"
-creating the psychedelic tape loops on "Being the Benefit For Mr. Kite"- which was accomplished by literally cutting the tapes of carousel music and mixing it together.

The list could go on and on as Martin ended up producing every album in the band's discography (with the exception of Let It Be, which was produced by Phil Spector- although Martin was there when the album was originally recorded in 1969). Given his contributions to the Beatles, someone could make a good case for Martin as to why he might've been the fifth Beatle.

After the band's split in 1970, Martin continued producing various other artists. In terms of rock music, Martin produced albums for America, Jeff Beck, Cheap Trick and UFO. He also produced solo albums by Paul McCartney (Tug of War, Pipes of Peace, Give My Regard to Broad Street) and Ringo Starr (Sentimental Journey). The last album he produced was a remix album for the Cirque du Soleil Beatles show Love in 2006.

In his life, Martin was married twice. From 1948 to 1965, Martin was married to Sheena Chisholm. With Chisholm, he had two children- Alexis and Gregory Paul. From 1966 until his death, Martin was married to Judy Lockheart-Smith. With her, he had another two children- Lucie and Giles. In recent years, Giles Martin has followed in the footsteps of his father and also serves as a producer. Since Martin's retirement, Giles has been part of almost all of the major Beatles releases- including The Beatles: Rock Band game.

It is sad to hear of Sir George Martin's passing. He lived a wonderful long life of nine decades. In interviews and documentaries, I adored listening to him. He seemed like a real gentleman. When you watch or listen to any interview he gave, he would always come across as this very fatherly figure to the Beatles- as he would always refer to the band as "the boys." I remember when Gayle King interviewed him in 2011 for the fifth anniversary of the Love show, King remarked how Sir George was a fatherly figure. Sir George, being the polite man he was, kindly reminded King that he was more like an older brother (there's a 15 year difference between him and Ringo). Although Sir George was technically right, Paul said in his blog post that Sir George was like a second father to him. He was a remarkable man and a wonderful producer. In fact- if the Beatles were the greatest band of all time, I'd say that makes Sir George Martin the best producer in music.

I must also add that in various news reports, the phrase of "the fifth Beatle" has been tossed around. Was Sir George the fifth Beatle? I always thought so. Then again, there are some other people that played an important part in the Beatles' career. I'd say there are a fittingly enough number of five fifth Beatles. They would be...

-George Martin (1926-2016)
-Brian Epstein (1934-1967)
-Derek Taylor (1932-1997)
-Mal Evans (1935-1976)
-Neil Aspinall (1941-2008)

Of those five, Sir George was the last one standing. So along with Sir George, I would like to say thank you to all of the fifth Beatles.

Rest in peace, Sir George. Thank you for the music. 

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